Dr Jamal Badawi, one of the leading Muslim scholars in North America, delivered an unscheduled Friday Sermon - Jumuah Khutba - at the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, Southern California on November 27, 2015. I met him after the Friday Prayer and thanked him for coming to our Islamic Center and added, “Because this is a Thanksgiving weekend, you are here with us, Dr Jamal Badawi.”
Dr Jamal Badawi and I could not continue the conversation. He was on his way to the Ontario, California, that is more than forty miles from Hawthorne. He was attending the Annual Conference of the Muslim American Society (MAS) there. He was the Keynote Speaker at the Conference that was being held during this American Thanksgiving Weekend.
A few minutes later, a young man who attended the Jumuah Prayer and heard the conversation between Dr Jamal Badawi and me, approached and said, “We do not celebrate Thanksgiving; it is celebrated by the Mushrakeens.” I immediately told him, “I disagree with you,” and walked away from him. He made the remark by making a casual observation when he heard me use ‘Thanksgiving Weekend’ in the conversation with Dr Jamal Badawi. This young man took it upon himself to make a judgment.
In the United States of America the First Thanksgiving was celebrated by the European Immigrants, the Pilgrim, after their first harvest in October 1621. This harvest festival lasted three days as accounted Edward Winslow, who was one of the attendees. He mentioned that it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. Even before this, the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, celebrated Thanksgiving in 1610. Later, the English settlers who arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, in 1619, started the day of their arrival in Virginia as a yearly and a perpetual day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated on and off since 1789 with a proclamation by President George Washington. However, it became a federal holiday in 1863. A hundred years later, President John F. Kennedy issued Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963 stating, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of the children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”
As Muslims we thank every day of our lives; we appreciate and never take for granted all that Allah has given us. We also engage in thanking people for their good acts, deeds, or favors they have heaped on us. Our thankfulness is called ‘Tashakkur’ in Arabic and ‘Shukriya’ in Urdu language. We feel that there is always, always something to be thankful for. We thank God every day, five times a day after each obligatory prayer. Our thanksgiving is perpetual. An attitude of gratitude brings great things because gratitude is one of the simplest, yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.
In the Holy Qur’an there are many verses that repeatedly asks the followers to be thankful to Allah and remember His bounties. Prophet Muhammad(Peace be Upon Him) asked the Muslims to be thankful to others. The following verse may most closely reflect the spirit of thanksgiving, we are reminded of the bounty that is in the harvest:
A Sign for them is the earth that is dead. We do give it life, and produce grain therefrom, of which ye do eat. And We produce therein orchard with date-palms and vines, and We cause springs to gush forth therein. That they may eat of the fruit thereof, and their hands did not make it; will they not then be grateful? (Surah Yasin: Verses 33-35)
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. Most often people tend to believe what they hear or see that may provide only a part of the information, then suddenly form an opinion and pass judgment. I started celebrating Thanksgiving more than thirty-five years ago to express my gratitude to Almighty Allah. My thankfulness directed to Almighty God makes me see in it an awareness of, and appreciation for, what I have and what is around me. I am thankful to God for my family, health, friends, community, and the good life I am enjoying in the United States. The people around the world have been expressing gratitude through ages. I elevated my gratitude to a higher level of thankfulness and express it through the Islamic Prayer. I wrote to Los Angeles Times as to how I celebrate my thanksgiving.
My letter was published in Los Angeles Times. : “Voluntary Islamic Thanksgiving Prayer” November 22, 2001
"I came to the United States in 1962. My father, an army contractor who had worked with the British army in India, told me to go to Oxford or Cambridge, but I decided to come to California. This is because of the speech made by Vice President Richard Nixon in 1957 in Bangalore in south India. During the speech he mentioned that Bangalore reminded him of California. That's why I decided to come to California. In the last 20 years, I have started celebrating Thanksgiving in a very unique way--an additional way. To give thanks to God, I perform two units of voluntary Islamic prayer , either on Thanksgiving Day or on Friday, in the morning, afternoon or evening. Since this is not a compulsory or mandatory Islamic prayer, I choose the day and the timing. This year, I have decided to perform four units of Thanksgiving prayer , to thank God more for the good life my family is enjoying in these United States. I will pray to God to bless America, humanity, and our spaceship, the Earth. May God give us the strength to fight terrorism, intolerance, and hate crimes."
Mohammad Yacoob is a retired industrial engineer and engineering proposals analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California.